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Preventing Shutter Lag
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Introduction     back to top

I'll offer a lot of details below, but here's all you need to know: you can't just mash the shutter all the way down and expect the picture to take.


To eliminate shutter lag or delay, first half-press the shutter of any modern camera until the camera focuses and sets itself (often shown with a green light), keep holding the shutter halfway down until you want to take the picture, and then press the shutter the rest of the way down and the photo will take instantly!


Now the commentary.

I handed my wife my Nikon 35Ti to take my picture, and before she even touched it she said "I hate these cameras. They take too long to take a picture."

They don't, but I realized I need to give my wife, and therefore all normal people, a lesson on how to use a modern camera properly.

Photographers have known since the 1960s how to get a camera to shoot the instant we want it to shoot.

Now that cameras have become consumer electronics commodities, most intelligent people simply don't know how to use a camera. You don't just press the shutter as you did in the 1970s.

Let me explain.


Background     back to top

For the first 100 years of photography, every camera required adjustment by hand. The word "manual" comes from the Latin "manus," or hand.

Up until the 1960s, unless you knew how to measure and set focus, aperture and shutter speed for each and every shot, you couldn't take a picture. Photo teachers were needed, since without them, only photographers could take decent pictures.

Simple box cameras, replaced by Instamatics in the 1960s and disposable cameras in the 1980s, got around making settings simply by being fixed to one generic setting good for most conditions. That setting is either 10' (3m) with flash indoors or about 10' (3m) outdoors. This sufficed for most normal people.

Once any camera is set (the box cameras, instamatics and disposables are always fixed at the same setting), of course the shutter on any of these cameras releases instantly. There is no lag.

There was always a lot of delay to measure, set and adjust older cameras, but it was never related to the shutter. Heck, it takes me twenty minutes just to focus my 4x5" camera. Once it's dialed in, the shutter goes off instantly.


Modern Times     back to top

Automatic exposure cameras evolved in the 1960s. Automatic focus cameras evolved in the 1980s.

Today, every camera has autofocus and auto exposure. We take it for granted, and we photographers appreciate all the time it saves us.

Today's cameras set focus in a fraction of a second and set exposure almost instantly, but they still take some time to set up, and usually need to be told where to focus.

Set up time isn't shutter lag. Set up is supposed to be done before you want to snap the picture.


Avoiding Lag     back to top

Innocent people often mistake the time a camera takes to set up for shutter lag.

Likewise, innocent consumer electronics commentators fall for the same thing and erroneously report that cameras like the Nikon D40 have shutter lags. Like most plane crashes, these shutter lags are usually pilot error.

All modern cameras, digital and film, pro and point-and-shoot, all have two-stage shutter buttons. The first light press to a halfway point sets up the camera.

The second, full press instantly releases the shutter.

The proper way to use every modern camera is to point its AF sensor at your subject and press the shutter halfway. The camera sets up and readies itself for instant release.

Keep finger pressure on the shutter, and recompose the shot. The subject rarely should stay in the center for an artistically good photo.

When you've composed your photo and everyone is smiling, press the shutter the rest of the way and it goes off instantly.


Tracking Kids, Sports and Motion     back to top

For chasing action, use an SLR camera and set its autofocus mode to AF-C (Nikon) or AI Servo (Canon). If your camera has it, the AF-A mode (Nikon) or AI Focus mode (Canon) lets your camera automatically select the correct focus mode based on the subjects motion or lack thereof.

On Nikon, select Dynamic AF sensor selection, which lets your Nikon select different AF sensors as things move around the frame.

For other brands, use whichever mode lets the camera track moving action. Some point-and-shoots also can attempt this.

In these modes, the camera locks on when you first press the shutter, and keeps tracking the subject as it moves around. There will be no shutter delay. See also Sports Photography.


Why People Have Problems     back to top

Innocent people call it "shutter lag" when they point a camera at their subject, and expect to take a picture with one big push.

This worked on 1950s cameras and still works on disposables, but isn't the proper way to use any modern camera.

All modern cameras prefer the correct two-step process. Every modern camera sets up much faster than any of us could set our cameras manually, but they still take a moment.

Give your camera the opportunity to set up properly, and you'll be rewarded with great pictures without delay.


How about those milliseconds?

There will be some milliseconds between when you finally press the button and when it shoots. Even mechanical film cameras had tiny delays.

The window of human perception is about 30ms, or 1/30 of a second.

The delays of modern cameras, used properly, is on the verge of perception. The delays about which people fret are the second or two a camera may take to set up, not the final milliseconds of delay.

Of course if you're a full-time sports shooter you may worry about 30 ms, but this article isn't for you; it's for normal people like my wife.


Help me help you         top

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Thanks for reading!



Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.


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